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The Wisdom of Clearing Out Immigrant Workers

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

While Congress postpones action on immigration reform, state and local jurisdictions are taking matters into their own hands. One result is that immigrants are leaving those jurisdictions; even legal immigrants, who find the atmosphere unwelcoming irrespective of status.

A curious example is that of Arizona. John McCain is a senator from Arizona and, as it happens, the leading Republican candidate for president. He is also a proponent of legalization of unauthorized immigrants as long as they fulfill certain conditions. His local legislators, however, are not necessarily aligned with his views.

An article today in the New York Times cites State Representative Russell K. Pearce, a Republican from Mesa and leading advocate of the crackdown on illegal immigration, who celebrates the departures as a success. "The desired effect was, we don’t have the red carpet out for illegal aliens," Mr. Pearce said.

However, as the article noted, there are parallel and intertwined downward spirals involved. A declining economy is part of the reason for the departures. But, the more people leave, the more business declines. Because there are then fewer jobs, more immigrants, reacting to the new rules and to the lack of jobs, decide to leave. And business, lacking its former customers, further declines. The net result is fewer, not more jobs.

But Senator Pearce is not the only legislator in Arizona. This week, reports the Times, state lawmakers, concerned about shortages of workers and the failed revamping of immigration law in Congress, which was co-sponsored by Senator McCain, pledged to take action.

Similar trends were reported in Virginia’s Prince William County, which made it very clear that the immigrants there could pack up and go, and in the Virginia state legislature. Oklahoma is an example of a State jurisdiction where the threatened loss of workers has led business groups to take the matter to court. But it’s the US Chamber of Commerce, a national group, that is a plaintiff in that action filed in federal court.

The situation may well play out similarly in other places, as action on immigration at the federal level remains unlikely to take place until after the elections and until the barrier at the border is tested and its results measured.

Meanwhile, as is discussed in our own analysis today, the national economy continues to flounder as a consequence of the collapse of the mortgage and building sectors, the liquidity crisis, and the expected and further strains in the credit-card sector.

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